Do You Have What It Takes To Make Superior Yarn?

Spoiler alert.
Handspinners please note.
If you’re not interested in making better yarn – leave now.
Click away.
Do not read the rest of this post.
Because what comes next will change the way you think about your handspun yarn.

What comes next is a not-so secret formula – written by Lee Raven and published in the Winter 1983 issue of Spin-Off Magazine.

Photo of Spinning Magazine from 1983
It’s both a how-to and a challenge.
It’s a simple equation – and it’s a doozy:

“Good Fibers + Skillful Control = Superior Yarn”

And by doozy I mean game changer.

Because if you read those words and think about how that statement applies to the yarn you make, you’ll start thinking about yarn differently (and not just your own yarn – you’ll probably think differently about commercial yarns, too).

So if you ignored the warning at the beginning of this post, be aware of the consequences.

Everything you know about fiber, yarn and spinning has undergone a subtle but undeniable alteration.

Your brain has begun to reorganize and re-frame all the information you’ve gathered about making yarn –  including what you do, how you do it and what you think about the end result.

You might not recognize the change right away.  But it will begin to show up in the questions you ask.  Questions you might not have asked yourself until now.

Questions like:

  • “What qualities define a good fiber?
  • Are the fibers I usually spin considered good fibers?
  • “What makes some spinning fibers good and others not so good?”
  • ” What do I need to know about fibers so I can tell if they’re good fibers or not?”
  • “What does skillful control mean?”
  • “What skills do I have and how can I modify what I already know?”
  • “What is it – exactly – that I’m supposed to control?”
  • “What skills and techniques can I practice to gain more control as I spin?

If you continue to seek answers to questions like these – and if you incorporate what you learn into the yarn you make, – you’ll know if you have what it takes to make superior yarn.

Let your questions – and your preferences – lead the way.

Maybe you’ve  been wondering how to change something about the yarn you spin – how to make it thicker, thinner, smoother, or more textured?.

Maybe you’d like to try spinning something different – something you’ve heard other spinners say is too hard, or too tricky or too expensive.

Maybe you want to weave with your handspun yarn.

Maybe you want to raise your own sheep but aren’t really sure what breed is best for your purposes.

Maybe you don’t give a rodent’s patootie what someone else thinks is “superior” – maybe you just want to be able to make whatever the heck kind of  yarn you want to make.

So what’s stopping you?
What do you need to know before you can move forward?
What part of that equation don’t you understand?
(I’ll tell you about some of the things I didn’t – and still don’t – understand in another post).
But right now – I gotta go look through a few more of my old Spin-Off magazines.


It’s Plying Time Again – I’m Gonna Weave You

Eventually, yes – weaving is the plan for these yarns.

Photo of yarns on spinning bobbins, 2-ply and single cotton and single silk/merino, handspun by Joanne Littler, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio, Fairfax, VT.
Two done, four to go.

But that’s not the reason why I had to ply.

I needed some empty bobbins.   I got myself into a bit of a pickle spinning new-to-me fibers and  ‘forgot’ that in order to make a 3-ply yarn, I would need one bobbin for each ply.  1+1+1 = ?  (Arithmetic – sheesh!)

The thing is, until recently, my preference (my habit) has been to make 2-ply yarns.  With 2 empty standard size bobbins and a jumbo flyer

Photo of the older version of a Jumbo Flyer on an Ashford Traditional Spinning Wheel at Pine Ledge Fiber Studio, Fairfax, VT.
(older) Ashford Jumbo Flyer on an Ashford Traditional Spinning Wheel

I always have a way to make two bobbins full of singles and ply them onto the jumbo bobbin (plus the added bonus of one big skein/no knots).

But there are differences between Cashmere and the so-called “rug wools”  – beyond the most obvious.  And I’m curious about what it takes to make warp for a rug.  So I decided to explore the potential of having an additional ply (and got pretty excited about the possibilities).

But lo and behold – all my so-called ‘extra’ bobbins were otherwise engaged.

It’s not unusual for me to have several bobbins of spun singles waiting to be plied.  It doesn’t bother me to let them sit there until I’m ready to take them to the next level.  And I like looking at them – all proud and pretty on their lazy kates.

But it’s not considered best practices.

Fibers twisted together (yarn) and wound under tension (into a ball or around the core of a bobbin)-  over a period of time – may appear to have lost their characteristic elasticity.  And appearance is key – because it becomes  difficult to accurately gauge the true nature of that fiber or yarn as it appears in it’s stretched-out state.

What that means is – I might not be able to tell how much plying twist I’ll need just by looking at the singles that I’ve oh so carelessly left sitting on their bobbins for who knows how long.

But here’s the thing.
In my experience, based on what I know about the yarns I spin –

Leaving singles on a bobbin is not the problem.

The question of whether or not it’s “good” for my yarn gets filed into a category I call:  “not important, doesn’t matter, and I don’t care.”

If you’re having a whole lot of fun spinning and spinning – and spinning – you may wind up with a bunch of spun singles and nowhere to move them.

The problem is not having any empty bobbins.

When you’re enthusiastically engaged and eager to continue along a particular creative path (like spinning), it seems to me that “best practices” include being able to keep doing what you’re doing when you’re on a “roll” rather than lose your momentum, or worse – feel frustrated at having to stop.

You don’t have to be afraid that your singles will languish if you leave them on a  lazy kate for a while.  It’s OK to let them wait their turn if you have something better (more important, different or exciting) to do.
Develop your own best practice.
Get into the habit of writing down where the drive band is when you spin. (Which whorl are you using?).
Be aware of your natural treadling pace and drafting style.  (How many times do you push down on the treadle before your newly formed yarn moves through the orifice and onto the bobbin?)

Write it down. Those little bits of information will help you pick up where you left off.

Sometimes what feels like an interruption turns into a good thing.

Photo of 3 skeins of 2-py yarns, handspun by Joanne Littler, Pine Ledge Fiber Studio, Fairfax, VT
2-ply yarns handspun by Joanne Littler

Now I have 6 empty bobbins.   Maybe it’s time to try a 4 or 5-ply?

Now I gotta go weave.